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HMRC makes U-turn on permanent helpline cuts


HMRC has performed a remarkable u-turn on plans to make permanent cuts to its helplines, less than 24 hours after proposals were unveiled.

20th Mar 2024
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HMRC has peformed a u-turn on controversial plans to make permanent cuts to its helplines, less than 24 hours after proposals were unveiled and strongly criticised.

Following feedback from concerned stakeholders, the changes to the Self-Assessment, VAT and PAYE helplines that were announced will be halted while HMRC engages with stakeholders about how to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met as the department shifts more people to online self-service in the longer term.

The original announcement drew widespread criticism from readers and industry bodies, with Caroline Miskin, senior technical manager, digital taxation at ICAEW, calling the permanent move to answer VAT helpline calls on five business days a month “disappointing” and CIOT president Gary Ashford saying the organisation was “deeply dismayed”.

HMRC chief executive Jim Harra has now said that while “making best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers and get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity”, the pace of this change “needs to match the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online”.

“We’ve listened to the feedback and we’re halting the helpline changes as we recognise more needs to be done to ensure all taxpayers’ needs are met, whilst also encouraging them to transition to online services.”

"Common sense has prevailed"

A statement on behalf of the Treasury Committee noted it was “extremely pleased to see that common sense has prevailed”.

“We welcome the decision to reverse yesterday’s ill-advised announcement. While we do not oppose expansion of digital services for those who want to use them, we remain entirely unconvinced that HMRC is adequately prepared to impose such a significant change in how it serves taxpayers.

“Planned changes to the operation of HMRC's phonelines have been mismanaged from the beginning. Questions still remain over the extent to which the department are prioritising its own needs over those of law-abiding and vulnerable taxpayers.”

Miskin and Ashford have also welcomed the move.

“This surprising u-turn is good news for taxpayers, who need HMRC customer service to be responsive to their queries,” said Miskin. “If taxpayers can’t speak to a human when they need to, there is a real risk that they give up on trying to do the right thing and that errors and non-compliance increase.

Ashford added: “This pause is a good opportunity for HMRC to press a reset button on their attempts to force people into digital services by withdrawing phone help, rather than taking people with them by making the online option the attractive choice.”

It is the second such u-turn within a matter of weeks, following the government’s decision to reverse new guidance that classed double-cab pickups as cars rather than vans.


Replies (115)

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By CatsandDogs
20th Mar 2024 14:33

I am taking all of the credit for this.
10.21AM - I email our MP to complain
11.21AM AccountingWeb reports the decision has been reversed!

Thanks (6)
Replying to CatsandDogs:
By johnjenkins
20th Mar 2024 14:45

Sorry sunshine or should I say raining. I spoke to my mate in the pub last night (truth) about this and he said he would have a word in an ear. So I have to claim credit.

Thanks (2)
By Pam Moreland
20th Mar 2024 15:10

What, ask the stakeholders (or customers) first - whatever next. This lot couldn't run a bath let alone a tax system.
They had better not give Jim Harra a knighthood when he is kicked out. I feel a protest coming on.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Pam Moreland:
By moneymanager
20th Mar 2024 22:44

Couldn't run a bath, they're a shower.

Thanks (1)
By Retrocanary
20th Mar 2024 15:14

"the public appetite for managing their tax affairs online” - sorry, but does the phone constantly ringing off the hook not indicate there's also a huge remaining public appetite to manage their tax affairs by phone?

Thanks (0)
the sea otter
By memyself-eye
20th Mar 2024 15:15

HMRC only u turned today and there are 84 (and counting) comments already.
Anyone would think it's a contentious issue......

Ooops - i'll get my coat!

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By moneymanager
20th Mar 2024 16:19

Otherwise know as the inability to organise over imbibing in a brewery.

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By mydoghasfleas
20th Mar 2024 17:03

Do I detect some repetition in this HMRC statement?

Sounds very similar to that made in the double cab vans volte face. Something to do about representations from stakeholders leading to a consultation. The consultation is very quick as the decision is reversed any stakeholder is allowed to comment.

Was it Bullet Tooth Tony who said, "Never underestimate the predictability of stupidity"?

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By Homeworker
20th Mar 2024 18:02

Must catch up with my emails more quickly. I've just posted a couple of comments on yesterday's report!!

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By GHarr497688
20th Mar 2024 18:36

It shows just what HMRC are all about . Drop the roller shutters pass onto the Accountants and let them shoulder all the hassle . Effectively this isn’t saving taxpayers money it’s increasing tax by stealth in other words taxpayers pay the Accountants to do the job of HMRC without the taxpayer knowing . Absolutely below the belt and underhanded from the people telling us to help us ‘customers’ ‘get it right’ .MTD ITSA will bring this to ahead so not long to wait now !!!

Thanks (1)
By Agutter Accounts
21st Mar 2024 06:02

We all know the current HMRC Helpline performance is dire as is getting any sort of resolution to queries. This proposal was never going to fly, though the U-turn was swifter than many of us expected.

Many people still are not comfortable online, many still do not use the Internet. And some querioes are too complex for the online help or chatbots we are encouraged to use.

The system is a mess, and the tax code too long contradictory and complex. If government wants efficiency and modernisation then give us a tax code fit for purpose.

Thanks (1)
Replying to Agutter Accounts:
By Simon_GNR
21st Mar 2024 12:14

"HMRC Helpline" my @rse! "HMRC No-helpline", more like!

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By mhkay
21st Mar 2024 11:21

When a decision is reversed that quickly after being announced, it looks very much as if it was announced without having first been approved at the right level. Perhaps that means approval by HM Treasury, perhaps it means approval by politicians.

Thanks (2)
By Simon_GNR
21st Mar 2024 12:13

Jim Harra's job should be on the line, but no doubt he'll keep getting the promotions, "gongs" and gold-plated final salary pension entitlements.

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By Jason Croke
21st Mar 2024 17:06

Email from HMRC today abut yesterdays announcement :-

"Yesterday we sent you an email about changes to our helplines. These changes are being halted while we consider how best to help taxpayers harness online services."

HMC so obsessed with online, so the helpline is only being saved for now until HMRC figure out how they help taxpayers harness online services better.

In other words, its the taxpayers fault, nothing like a bit of victim blaming hey.

I've made 3 calls to HMRC VAT helpline today. All three was because HMRC have messed up very basic tasks :

1. Disbanding a VAT group. Had submitted VAT registration and sent VAT 505/1 forms via online - I was harnessing HMRC's much desired online approach. Letter (not digital reply) from VAT group saying they don't know which entity I want to be the representative member of the VAT group. Had to call them to say I am disbanding the VAT group (as per what the VAT50/51 forms state), apologies for not reading the tick box correctly and will now process correctly but my call was to fix their problem.

2. VAT652 disclosure. Submitted VAT652 in October 2023, client owed £62k. Client paid £62k in October 2023 to reduce interest charges, HMRC processed the VAT652 in February 2024. But HMRC allocated the VAT652 twice, so client now owes £124k and only paid £62k. Again, HMRC will fix the issue and amend the VAT account but I had to call to fix their problem.

3. VAT registration. I have 2 VAT registrations submitted in December 2023, I have followed their online guidance and emailed a chase to the VAT registration team with the appropriate reference number...I did this in Jan, Feb and Mar and no replies at all. Why have an online process that says "email us if waiting more than 40 days" if they don't actually answer?

Point being, here I am, "harnessing" all of the digital/online services that HMRC are trumpeting but the issue isn't the online bit, it's the people behind the scenes who are manually processing everything that you submit online, it is HMRC taking months to do anything and ignoring you in between .

Thanks (1)